Council defends North Korean flag on display at Asian Games

HANGZHOU, China -- The Olympic Council of Asia says it is happy for the North Korean flag to keep flying at the Hangzhou Asian Games despite it being banned over the country's noncompliance with global anti-doping rules.

The World Anti-Doping Agency banned the flag at all major sporting events, outside the Olympic and Paralympic Games, in 2021 after deeming North Korea had failed to implement an effective testing program.

But North Korean athletes marched proudly behind the flag at Saturday's opening ceremony in Hangzhou, and it has been displayed at competitions and in the athletes village.

Acting OCA president Randhir Singh said Asian Games organizers and North Korea were in discussions with WADA but that the flag was still flying.

"North Korea also has written to WADA as well, explaining their position," he told reporters Sunday. "We are explaining it from our side as well. At present the North Korea flag is flying, and we will look into it and see what the future says. Let me tell you, our intention is that everyone should participate and everyone should have the opportunity to participate."

WADA said in a statement that North Korea was still noncompliant with its anti-doping code and that the OCA had failed to enforce its sanction.

"As such after the opening ceremony, WADA wrote to the OCA to remind them of their obligations and to inform them that a compliance procedure would be opened against them as appropriate," the anti-doping body said.

The Hangzhou Asian Games is the first international multisport event North Korea is attending since the 2018 edition in Jakarta.

North Korea was suspended from the International Olympic Committee until the end of 2022, missing last year's Beijing Winter Games, after failing to send a team to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The Asian Games was originally to host up to 500 athletes from Russia and Belarus, despite widespread competition bans for the countries' athletes following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. However, the IOC confirmed in the lead-up to Hangzhou that they would not participate due to "logistical" issues.

Singh said the athletes would have "otherwise been most welcome" and left the door open for them to participate at future Asian competitions.